Right Problem, Wrong Solution

By John Jackson, President & CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education

While the Schott Foundation is pleased that Kentucky legislators are reviewing its data to address the alarming low graduation rate of African American males, we are concerned that they are considering the wrong solution to the problem: charter schools. The opportunity gap that has led to the persistent achievement gap between students of color and their White peers is a systemic problem. It can only be solved by systemic solutions that provide resources so all children, regardless of where they live, have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn, not by creating a competitive system for charter schools for a few students.

To be sure, the 60% graduation rate for Black males in Kentucky is a cause for great alarm—as is the only 65% graduation rate for White males in the state. However, charters are an inadequate solution for the size of this problem; they will leave most kids behind. A review of national statistics indicates that currently charter schools only educate 4% of U.S. children; the fastest growing system of charters is in New York, with 22% growth and only educates 2% (21,000) of New York City’s over one million students. To expand this program nationally would take roughly 150 years to meet all our students’ needs.

Furthermore, charter schools have produced mixed results, at best. They do not (and will not) eliminate the funding disparities between well- resourced and poorly-resourced schools. According to one recent and highly regarded study, only 17% of charter schools do better than regular public schools and 36% do significantly worse.

Rather than divert tax dollars from public schools to privately-managed, for-profit charters, we should focus efforts on strengthening the public schools - especially struggling ones - and ensure they have the resources they need to help their students succeed. We don’t need a “Superman” nor a few “Super Schools,” we need “Super Systems” capable of rescuing all Kentucky’s, and the nation’s, young people and keeping them on a path to graduation prepared for post-secondary success.